TFC's mountainous task

STEVEN SANDOR, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:55 PM ET

TORONTO - The schedule-maker made this weekend an especially cruel one for Toronto FC.

Even if the team had a bye week going into Sundayís game in Commerce City, Colorado against the Rapids, the Reds would have a mighty challenge to prepare for one of the most physically demanding road games of the season. Last season, the Rapids lost only two of 15 games at Dickís Sporting Goods Park, yet won only two on the road all season.

Instead, the Reds have two days.

Real Salt Lake, the other Rocky Mountain team, lost just once at home last season.

Thatís what playing at altitude will do for teams.

Itís a big deal. The Rapids and RSL records are proof.

As TFC coach Preki addressed the media after Thursday nightís win, he admitted that his team would be spending most of the next couple of days preparing for the conditions ó not spending that time on the pitch training. Plus, players need to recover from Thursdayís win.

The team, though, wonít leave for Colorado until Saturday, as the common wisdom is that itís actually worse to spend a couple of days in the conditions before the game.

For someone not used to the altitude, being there for 48 or 72 hours before the game will actually make the player react worse during the game. Quick in, quick out, thatís what the team will do.

As well, Preki is being careful with players coming back from injury, such as striker Chad Barrett and midfielder Jacob Peterson, who came in as subs Thursday, because Preki feels they arenít ready for a full 90, yet.

Barrett, though, could be a lucky charm. He scored the deciding goal in the Redsí only win in Commerce City ó a 1-0 triumph in 40C heat. Not only was it impressive because the Reds survived the conditions, but they won with a roster depleted by international call-ups and injuries.

But, last season, the Rapids scored 25 times at home and gave up only 10. The goals come from the impressive combination of thunder and lightning, with target man Conor Casey, a former TFC player who finished second in league scoring last season, combining with the speed of Jamaican international Omar Cummings.

And, the Reds will also face Marvell Wynne, the former No. 1 draft pick who was traded to Colorado right before the start of the 2010 season.

Against Philadelphia, Preki tried a 4-3-3 system, with Dwayne De Rosario out in the front of the attack and Julian De Guzman and Nick LaBrocca on the outside.

But, before Philadelphia defender Danny Califf took a silly red card and changed the tactics of the game, it looked a lot more like a 4-5-1, as De Rosario was often the only Reds player who was crossing into the opposing side of half.

Preki admitted the formation on the field didnít look like what was drawn up in the dressing room.

ďIt wasnít by design,Ē he said.

But donít be surprised to see the Reds try a very conservative game plan Sunday, as they try to conserve energy and nurse at least eight of 11 starters through 90 minutes.

Yes, MLS features some brutal road dates; thereís also the punishing heat and humidity in Houston, where the Dynamo knows to pressure road teams, who are trying like heck to keep composed in the heat.

And, talk to any road team coming to BMO Field about the wild winds off Lake Ontario.

But altitude is a special kind of poison for most road teams. Altitude affects a soccer match, where players are in a constant state of motion, more than basketball, football or hockey, where there are regular substitutions and the games stop and start.

And the fact the MLS schedule gives Toronto less than three days to prepare is a cruel turn for a team trying to right its ship.

steven.sandor@sunmedia.ca


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